London (EFE) NY.
Before returning to its final home in the US, which will reopen this year after six years of reform work, some 150 works will bring the British public closer -starting this Saturday at the iconic Royal Academy- Spanish culture, its ties with America and its Islamic or Roman influences.
The exhibition is a “greatest hits” of Hispanic art, in which there is no shortage of paintings by Goya -such as his well-known Duchess of Alba-, Velázquez, El Greco or Zurbarán, but also dozens of objects that tell an entire visual history of Spain.
Neatly organized in chronological order, the grandeur of the setting in which they are displayed – one of the UK’s oldest and most venerable arts institutions – makes them shine all the more.
Compared to the straits of their original home, the pieces seem to breathe easier. And the objects in showcases dialogue fluently with the paintings on the walls.
But, after all, it is still a true “totum revolutum” in the history of Spanish art, with the only link being the hand that chose the works: the American patron Archer Huntington, who in 1909 opened the Museum and Library of the Hispanic Society in New York.
The millionaire, the son of a railroad magnate, knew how to get good advice and better choose the pieces that would make up his collection. This does not prevent his choices from being guided by very personal criteria, which adjusted the works to the conception that he himself had of Spain.
Fusion of cultures in London with jewelry from the Hispanic Society
Only a third of the pieces are paintings, as the curator of the exhibition, Per Rumberg, points out to EFE.
And it is precisely outside the pictorial work that some of the jewels of the Hispanic Society can be found in this exhibition in London, which are not usually exhibited in New York and for the most part can only be visited by appointment.
This is the case, for example, of a world map that Juan Vespuccio (Amerigo Vespucci’s nephew) drew up in 1526. Or of a beautiful watercolour, also from the 16th century, that an unknown author drew on the silver mines in Potosí (Bolivia).
What will surprise the British public? «What I hope is that they acquire a better understanding of what we understand by Spanish culture, how complex it is and how it has evolved over the centuries (…) Of course, the very important Islamic influence, from the 8th century to the XV, but also the fusion of cultures and traditions from the beginning, as we see in the section of colonial America, “explains Rumberg.
Sorolla and much more
If there is a name that is associated with the Hispanic Society and Huntington, it is that of Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923), in whose career the American patron played a fundamental role.
His monumental series “Visión de España”, which he produced at the end of his life at the request of Huntington, has not been able to be transferred to London, much to the regret of the organizers of the exhibition.
However, two paintings as symbolic as “Idyll in the sea” or “After the bath” are present together with works by some of his contemporaries such as Santiago Zuloaga or Santiago Rusiñol. And also a preparatory study in gouache with which the Valencian artist advanced, in a style closer to Expressionism, his “Vision of Spain”.
For curator Rumberg, the richness of the sample and the fact of being able to contemplate such heterogeneous pieces in the same room is the greatest attraction of the exhibition, although personally he opted for a small painting by Velázquez, which portrays an unknown girl. .
“We don’t know who she is. Velázquez painted many of royal children, but this is not one of them, so we have not been able to identify her. But it is such an intimate painting, so personal, that he kept it in his study until his death. So we thought she had a family relationship. She could be one of her granddaughters,” she says.